39 Presenting Jesus Christ to the Hebrews
by Hubert F. Sturges, www.everlastingcovenant.com, December 2013
brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and
High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus. Hebrews 3:1
wrote the Book of Hebrews for Jewish Christians. When Jesus came to
earth, His life, teachings, and healings were a cataclysmic change from
what people expected of the Messiah. By His example, teachings, and
healings while on earth, Jesus cut across the beliefs, lifestyles, and
politics of the nation. In every confrontation with the leaders of the
nation, He was able to expose their ignorance, false beliefs, and
wishful thinking. Our society today is again ignorant of the teachings
of Christ, too willing to believe strange doctrines, and not willing to
see or act on the problems we face.
The epistle to the Hebrews
describes aspects of the ceremonial law, covenant, and the priesthood of
Christ, including practical applications for belief and practice. In
this chapter, we will reflect on Jesus as Redeemer and High Priest in
The Hebrews had centuries of
tradition. They also had the writings of the prophets. God demonstrated
His presence among them repeatedly and in different ways. The people
spent much time studying and discussing the Scriptures. They rested in
their beliefs. In spite of this, the leading priests and rabbis, and
possibly the majority of the people had false expectations of the
Messiah and false concepts of what He was to do. It was the leaders of
the people who led the way in rejecting Him, and they were responsible
for His eventual crucifixion.
In Hebrew society, there were
people who were “in expectation” of the Messiah’s soon appearing and who
welcomed Him when He came. However, even His disciples, who loved Him,
did not fully understand His mission until after the resurrection. Even
then, it required the teaching of the Holy Spirit to make the change.
For many of the Jewish believers, it was hard to give up centuries of
tradition. Paul wrote the epistle to the Hebrews
for such people. It is
one of the deepest and most carefully written books in the Bible.
“Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider
the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus” (Heb. 3:1).
In this salutation, Paul shows his love for his fellow Israelites.
Jesus Christ, the Son
In Hebrews, Paul pictures Jesus’
mediation in heaven. It is a continuation of what He did while on earth.
In every possible way, Paul tried to convince his fellow Jews that Jesus
is the Messiah and the heavenly High Priest. The purpose of the
sacrifices and the ceremonies was only to point to Him, and it is only
through Him that we humans are saved.
Chapter one begins with a
picture of Jesus, the Son. He is Heir of all things and Creator of the
worlds. He is the express image and glory of the Father. When He had
purged the sins of humanity, He sat down on the right hand of the
Father. He is High Priest and King. If the creation of God should become
old and worn out and perish, Jesus does not change. He lives forever. As
Paul wrote in the final chapter: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and
to day, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8).
In chapter two, Jesus becomes
human and is “made a little lower than the angels.” Angels are holy,
just, and intolerant of disobedience. God made human beings a little
lower than the angels and gave them dominion over all the creation on
this earth. Jesus condescended to come as a man, experiencing
temptation, suffering, and even death. Through Jesus, we have mercy and
salvation-He is still human as our merciful and faithful High Priest!
Considering the wonderful sacrifice of God in Jesus Christ, dare we
neglect the mercy and salvation that Jesus gives?
Paul depicts Moses as faithful in all that he did when Israel left
Egypt-as their leader, lawgiver, and mediator with God. While Moses was
faithful as a servant, Jesus is faithful as God’s Son. Moses had to deal
with complaints, rebellion, and insubordination from a stubborn people.
Jesus, the Son, suffered even deeper rejection but offered grace and
salvation to His people. Paul urges that every one of the children of
Israel exhort one another to belief while it is “today” when that rest
is available, contrasting it with “the provocation” and “the day of
temptation in the wilderness” (Heb. 3:8).
Chapter four is an
often-misunderstood chapter. God had promised Israel rest after the
finished work of God in delvering them from Egypt and giving them the
Promised Land. Paul compares this rest with the Sabbath rest. However,
not give Israel the rest He promised them because of their
apostasy and unbelief. Of necessity, He can only give it later. Jesus is
patient, touched with human infirmities, tempted as a man as we are. He
opened the way to the throne of grace that we may come boldly for help
in time of need.Jesus, High Priest in Heaven
6, and 7 of Hebrews discuss the priesthood of Christ after the “order of
Melchisedec” (Heb. 5:6, 10; 6:20; 7:11, 17, 21). Melchizedek was a
priest of God and the king of Salem (Gen. 14:18).
A man cannot
make himself a priest; he must be called by God. Of Christ, the Father
said, “Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee,” and, “Thou art a
priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb. 5:5, 6). As a
human being, Jesus has compassion on the sinner because He also suffered
temptation with the risk of sinning (Heb. 4:15). Christ “learned “|
obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb..5:8).
challenges his Jewish brethren to grow in grace, even attaining
perfection (Heb. 6:1). They must move on from the basic doctrines of
Christ and study the deeper truths of Scripture. They must obtain the faith and endurance of
Abraham. Through the cross, Jesus entered within the vail and opened the
way to the throne of grace, through which we may go on to perfection!
Melchizedek was a priest “without father, without mother, without
descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made
unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually” (Heb. 7:3).
Melchizedek, a priest and king, foreshadowed the priesthood of Christ.
Had God not called Jesus to be a priest after the order of Melchizedek,
He would not have otherwise had the genealogy to be a priest, being from
the tribe of Judah.Mediator of a Better Covenant
get into chapter 9, we find Jesus’ ministry compared, not with the
covenant, but with a corrupted view of the sacrifices and ceremonies of
the sanctuary. This was a problem among Jewish Christians. They could
not understand that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross wholly replaced the
animal sacrifices and ceremonies of the Temple. With the delay in Jesus’
return, they were being drawn back to their Jewish roots.
ascension, Jesus Christ went directly to the Father, to sit at His right
hand. He is a Priest-King after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 8:6). He
had made sacrifice for the sins of humankind. Now as our High Priest, He
presents His blood before the Father that all who believe in Him will be
cleansed (Heb. 1:3).
Humans cannot fully understand why Jesus,
second person of the Godhead, became a human being and lived on the
earth (Heb. 2:7, 9, 11). But by doing so, He became “captain of their
salvation” (Heb. 2:10; see also Heb. 2:14).
The work of Creation
was finished in six days, and God rested on the seventh day. Jesus went
to the cross and defeated sin and Satan that all who have faith and
believe in His finished work might be saved (Heb. 4). It was the
finished work of the covenant, and in this we have assurance and rest.
God gave to Israel, through Moses, the sanctuary patterned after the
heavenly sanctuary. It was an earthly tabernacle and an earthly
priesthood pointing forward to the prophesied Redeemer. These earthly
things, while glorious, were temporary and would pass away when Jesus
the Redeemer came.
The people responded with a first covenant
(Ex. 19:8; 23:20-23; 24:3-11), which was faulty, based on human
promises, and lacking in grace. It was the historical old covenant that
was soon broken.
After Moses interceded with God, the people were
brought back under the Abrahamic (new) covenant. The sanctuary services
and the priesthood were given as an illustration of the covenant, and an
easily understood means for sinners to see how the coming Redeemer would
take the penalty for sin and provide grace and pardon for humankind.
Before long, most people forgot the promised Redeemer and looked to
mere performance of sacrifices and rituals as a means of obtaining
pardon for sins, atonement, and salvation. It was the old covenant
experience again, depending on human works, and ineffective to offer
pardon for sins or salvation. It was a human tendency to “be religious
and do religious things” yet to continue to live in sin.
came and gave a more excellent ministry, a better covenant (the new
covenant), true and real promises, and the heavenly priesthood.
In the early Christian church there were Jewish converts who could not
give up their dependence on animal sacrifices, rituals, and an earthly
temple (Heb. 9). To maintain and depend on these outmoded ceremonies was
to deny what Christ had done on the cross. It was Paul’s desire to help
these Jewish converts to fully understand and believe in what Christ had
done for them.
Jesus’ willing sacrifice on the cross was the
single, effectual sacrifice for sin. It is through
His sacrifice that
the animal sacrifices of the previous centuries were effective in
pardoning sin (Heb. 9:12, 15, 24, 28). In the heavenly sanctuary, Jesus
mediates His own blood to pardon sin and change people’s lives. He made
the sacrifice once, and He now “ever liveth” to make intercession.
The Theme of Living by Faith
Hebrews 10 emphasizes again that
animal sacrifices cannot “make” human lives “perfect.” Verse 10 says:
“He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.” Then
verses 16 and 17 of the chapter repeat the new covenant promise. The
chapter also introduces the righteous living by faith in the context of
continuing in faith until Jesus returns (Heb. 10:37-39).
11 is the well-known faith chapter. Faith is “substance”-something to
hold onto to stabilize one’s life.1 It is evidence, based on what a
person believes. It is trust in the promises and work of God. It is an
emotional commitment and a love for God. -| without faith it is
impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he
is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Heb.
Why would a chapter on faith be inserted in the epistle to
the Hebrews when the emphasis of the epistle has been on Jesus’
priesthood, the new covenant of grace, and a discussion of the corrupted
view of the ceremonial law held by the Jews? It is because some Jewish
Christians could not let go of the tradition of sacrifices, ceremonies,
meticulous observance of the law, and belief in their lineage from
Abraham. These activities were all works-oriented and a source of
personal pride for what an observant Jew could accomplish.
God presented the covenant to Abraham, he “believed God” and he “fell on
his face,” having faith that God would do all that He said (Gen. 15:6;
17:3). His was a response of faith. The New Testament contains much
about faith, and faith is what God has always looked for in His people
and what He desires in His people awaiting Jesus’ return.
some Jewish Christians were lacking was faith. These were the
Judaizers.2 They needed faith based on what Jesus Christ had done on the
cross, a trust in grace to make a person a new creature, and a love for
Christ that empowers one’s commitment to Him. Hebrews chapter 11 is a
collection of stories of outstanding heroes of faith and an appeal for
all Christians to live by faith.
In Hebrews 12, faith is compared
to a race. An effective faith requires practice and endurance. The Bible
speaks of the “faith of Jesus,” a faith which holds on even when there
seems to be no hope. Christians must develop a faith that will endure
weariness, delay, and hunger. Jesus gives every person a spark of faith
(John 1:9), and He strengthens that faith until it can stand testing and
Each Christian must “make straight paths for his [or
her] feet” (Heb. 12:13) and must believe and follow Christ
things. He or she will stumble into “besetting, impulsive sins,” but
Jesus is our advocate to pardon sin. For continued, conscious,
rebellious sin, there is no sacrifice (Heb. 6:4-6). In the fully
committed life, there is peace and holiness. These are attitudes that
prepare one to see the Lord.A Faith That Works by Love
Hebrews 13 turns to routine aspects of church life. It lists five
essential Christian qualities we need:1.
Brotherly love. One of
the most difficult things to do is to love and appreciate those with
whom we deal most closely. It may be easier to love someone who lives in
another country. However, we cannot be Christians without loving the
Hospitality to strangers. God’s people sometimes
need to travel in their work, and it is a blessing if they can stay in a
home and sit at a table.3.
Ministry to those in prison. In some
countries, prisoners need help from those who are on the “outside,” even
food at times. They always need visits and encouragement. This is not an
easy task. Prisoners need to be sought out. Non-family visitors may need
qualifications. Though it may be difficult, the qualifications are
. Purity. In ancient Greek society, sexual
promiscuity was the norm. Even in western societies, it is becoming more
common. Christians are to be different-especially in this regard.
Contentment with what a person has. Materialism and money are the
new idolatry. The Bible says, “The love of money is the root of all
evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). Materialism can cause disorder and complication in
one’s life. If people buy a boat, they soon find that they do not own
the boat; the boat owns them! The final chapter of Hebrews deals with
other aspects of the Christian life. Christians must be loyal to their
faith and to the leadership of the church because God uses church
leaders to bring blessings to the church members. To find fault with the
pastor may cut off an avenue for God to use in giving someone guidance.
Besides loyalty, Christians must show “holy boldness.” It takes
courage to stand for one’s faith, yet this is what God wants each person
to do. God calls Christians to have faith and boldness and to be willing
to give up everything for Christ, who gave up all for us.
people also need to be worshipful. Others can see and feel a worshipful
attitude, which is a witness for God.
In the final verses, Paul
asks that others pray for him as he works with different people. Through
the resurrected Christ, we have peace and blessing. Christians are never
alone when doing God’s will.
The epistle to the Hebrews presents
Jesus Christ crucified and
risen again. He is the heavenly High Priest,
the Advocate, and the Judge for His people. Hebrews emphasizes the
meaning of the new covenant and appeals to God’s people to believe in
what Jesus has done and consent to the grace that prepares us to meet
Jesus when He comes again.Endnotes
“substance” comes from the Greek hupostasis, which G. Harder renders
“confident assurance” (The New International Dictionary of New Testament
Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1975, 1986],
vol. 1, p. 713).
The term “Judaizers” is not used in the
Bible. Writers use this term to describe Jewish Christians, who could
not let go of circumcision, Jewish traditions, and the ceremonial law.
As a matter of principle, they felt that the new Gentile converts needed
to observe these Jewish customs and, in effect, become Jews before they
could be saved. Later, in a time of apostasy, the popular Christian
church changed the day of worship from the seventh day to Sunday, the
first day. Many opposed this change, and the ecclesiastical hierarchy
termed those who continued to worship on the seventh-day “Judaizers.”
For more information about the Judaizers, see the following websites:
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08537a.htm, which is an excellent
discussion from the Catholic Encyclopedia, and
http://www.deusvitae.com/faith/denominations/judaizers. html, which
emphasizes the reaction of Paul in his epistles to the Judaizers.